“I was absolutely devastated after the first week. There were reports that I was going to walk out and I was quoted as saying ‘How dare they give me a two!’, but that was all rubbish,” says Robbie Savage as we sit in a room at BBC Centre. “A two was right, Craig’s the judge and that’s what he thought, so I’ve got no complaints, but I was really upset at the time.”
During the weekend of that fateful Cha Cha Cha, his father – who suffers from Alzheimers – moved into a care home and Savage admits that he broke down in tears backstage. “Yeah I cried. It was an emotional day and I just felt so low at that moment. I was devastated.”
The ex-football ‘hardman’, a label Robbie is quick to play down (“I just tried to win matches by any means possible and some people took exception to that..”) bounced back with a fine foxtrot last weekend and seems to have turned something of a corner. He may have impressed the judges with his Foxtrot, but apparently the performance was only seconds away from disaster.
“Two minutes before we went out I forgot everything, so we had an argument about that..” He laughs as his dance partner Ola Jordan smiles ruefully. “I just felt like I couldn’t remember a single thing that we’d practiced that week, Ola looked pretty worried at one stage! But I went on there and she got me through the first couple of moves, after that it seemed to come back and I was away..”
“Just before I go on to the dance-floor I’m a mess though. I’ve never experienced nerves like it!” continues Savage before painting a picture that will send shivers down the spine of most men. “Imagine going to the biggest night-club in the world, there’s ten million people watching, you’re the only person on the dancefloor and you’re completely sober.. It’s every normal bloke’s worst nightmare..”
The one-time Welsh international has publicly spoken of how brutal he found the training schedule when he joined the show last month (“The hardest thing I’ve ever done. Eight hours a day non-stop!”) but he does think that the public’s perception of him is changing thanks to the programme.
“People think they’re seeing a different side to me, but they’re actually just seeing me as I usually am,” he explains. “Someone sent me a tweet the other day that just said ‘Die’. Just one word. Die. So I retweeted that.. ‘no thanks’. I get that many people who say nasty things. I get a hundred of them a day, but it’s improved since I’ve been on Strictly.”
“I’ve had death-threats, people spitting at me, one bloke just punched me in the back of the head outside Old Trafford right in front of my eight year-old son,” he continues. “That was six-weeks ago.”
“I’ve noticed a massive difference with the way people react to me though. I’ve got old ladies coming up to me in the street saying they hope I make it through, even some football fans are watching it for the first time because I’m in it.”
Yet Savage, who has pledged to give his ‘five figure’ fee for the show to Alzheimer’s Charities, tells us that being seperated from his family for large parts of the week is the most difficult thing for him. “My wife’s been really supportive, but I miss my kids so much when I’m away from them, so we try to split the week between Manchester and London.”
However with a couple of very talented instructors behind him, it might be a few more weeks until Robbie returns home for good… “Ola’s a very good teacher. I’ve played against Gerrard, Keane, some hard midfielders, but she’s tougher than the lot of them.. even if you think you’ve done a really good dance, there’s always something you can improve on. She wants it to be perfect. I’ve been sending my training videos to Robbie Williams as well and he gives me tips..”
“My life’s so crazy these days,” says Savage. “I’m hanging around with Bruce Forsyth, Holly Vallance and getting dancing tips from Robbie Williams! Madness.”